Saturday, December 30, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - December 30, 2017

Funky bird's eye view of a bed in a hotel room, Guilin, China
It's the last opportunity weekend of 2017. Happy New Year! Are you sleeping in for the New Year or are you up and about and ready to send some work off in the new year? Time to rise and shine and, well, shine with some opportunities for you:
That's a bunch of calls which should help get your new year started off right. Good luck and get after here. Here's hoping your 2018 brings you lots of new opportunities.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Notes from the Road - Guilin, China: The Tea Ceremony

Details of a tea ceremony in Guilin China. This image shows the tea preparations.
We left off last time with me telling you a bit about Kevin and how I had attended a tea ceremony. The full tasting ceremony takes five hours and is quite complicated. The people serving the tea have to take a special bath and put their hair up a certain way. It was explained to us how this is done and then they told us we would be getting a shorter ceremony. We were happy about that, although I can only imagine how much fun the longer one would be.

For our tasting, we had three different teas to try. One was a mountain yellow tea. It was very light, even our host called it a sort of "ladies tea" due to it being very light. I liked it but did get a sense it was quite light. The next tea was osmanthus tea which is made by mixing in the local osmanthus flowers (these are the flowers local to Guilin.) We were told the first tea had monk fruit in it and the second tea was sort of like the monk fruit tea only with the osmanthus flowers mixed in. The last tea we tried was a brick tea. These type of teas are stronger, very strong in fact, and good for losing weight. I found it to be very good, I rather liked the brick tea but then I am a tea drinker and not shy of a stronger tea. Kevin said they drink the brick tea in Mongolia, in parts north, and in places like Tibet. It's colder in these locations and they cannot get fresh teas there year round. Also, it's hardy for them to drink. You can re-use the tea bricks, something like four or five times. To use a tea brick, we were told, cut it and break off a piece of the brick. One portion is about the size of your thumb's fingernail.

It was explained to us how you should always "wash" tea with warm water. You dip the tea in water and pour the water off, then allow the tea to steep. It's better that way. In the picture above, the small pots are placed inside the larger pots as they "wash" the tea in this way. It brings out the flavor of the tea.

Tea has more caffeine than coffee but, with tea, we do not eat the leaves of the plant so our bodies do not absorb the caffeine. With coffee, you eat the plant so you're basically eating the caffeine, which is why it "works" on us as a stimulant. Even though tea technically has more caffeine, drinking a cup of tea is about equivalent to taking a short nap. It's refreshing if you do it correctly. Tourist tea or "teabag" tea is typically made from older leaves. In China, they do not use many tea bag teas and it's considered not as desirable. I have always preferred loose tea but I am such a tea drinker that I will grudgingly admit a tea bag is better than no tea at all. We were also told that a "lazy teacup" is like a strainer for loose tea-it's kind of an all in one type deal for the office or for when you are being "lazy" and don't want to mess with an entire pot. This is how I typically enjoy my tea. Even if you use a "lazy teacup" you should still rinse you tea. (It will still taste better.)

Next up, were we told how to hold the teacup for tasting. A woman holds the teacup with one hand, using her first and third (thumb and middle) fingers, with her smallest finger on the bottom of the cup. Using the other hand, she extends her index finger to meet the finger from her other hand on the bottom of the cup. She also puts together her first and third fingers to meet the other hand.

Regardless of gender, the tasting cup must be finished in three sips, no more no less. You do not say "thank you" when being served tea, rather you tap the table with your fingers straight and extended. They told us you tap one finger if you are single and two fingers if married. The entire ceremony is a wonderful tradition and I'm so happy to have experienced it. It's one of those bucket list items for me. I'll now forever be able to see "I once picked tea in China and got to attend a tea tasting ceremony." I mean, really, how can you beat that, right? Especially for somebody like me who is really quite a tea drinker, it was a wonderful experience. The tea place we visited was wonderful and highly recommended. It's called the Guilin Tea Research Institute. You can read more about them on their link: They also ship tea directly to the United States (and around the world) and they take PayPal so it's pretty easy if you want to order yourself some tea from Guilin.

The bus out to the tea place was kind of fun itself. The neighborhood was more suburban, where real people live and a lot less touristy than parts of the downtown Guilin areas (there are very touristy areas in Guilin.) It was really great to see that as well. I saw a Honda car like mine and somebody out walking a dog. Little things like this that make for a wonderful exchange. Of course, the folks at the tea institute were very well versed in all things tea.

Until next time...

PS This image taken inside the tea ceremony. You can see the bowls they use for rinsing and then later serving the tea.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - December 23rd, 2017

I hope Santa brings you lots of art related gifts this year. Trying to do my own little part, I'm going to share with you some gifts of opportunity this holiday season:
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and that Santa brings you lots of fantastic new opportunities in the new year.

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Insert Your End of the Year Drama in Here Please

It's almost the end of the year. Are you feeling the drama yet? This time of year is a time that lends itself to thinking about work we've done, work we wanted to do, shots we've taken, maybe some we've missed. For some reason, photographers are a very introspective bunch and we tend to use the end of the year to really take stock of where we are, who we are, how our voices and visions are aligning, and where we want to go next. Like most photographers, I'm not immune to these annual pangs of retrospection. I anticipate a host of end of the year posts, a recap and highlight reel if you will of where I've been, where I want to go, and the like.

For me, this year took some really unexpected turns (who ever thought I would drop twenty pounds and wind up in China? Show of hands, please...yeah, I thought not. Honestly, last January that was the farthest thing from my mind.) One thing I guess you could say I have learned the hard way is that, well, I've grown to expect the unexpected. Photography is a wonderful gift. I've often said it pays me in ways I sometimes even fail to grasp. It has allowed me to travel to remote continents, places I'd never even dreamed I would go, meet wonderful people, share interesting journeys, and bring home captured memories. That's a lot to pack into a carry-on bag, really it is.

Sometimes, I hesitate participating in these typical end of the year round ups because I know, deep in my heart you could say I've grown to expect, I really don't know what tomorrow has in store. In many ways, I've learned to trust the process and have grown to expect, actually embrace, the unexpected. It's the fun in life, right? Photography is a wild ride and I'm hanging onto it for all it's worth. So, bottom line, yes, I'll probably do my own little, "Best of 2017" yada yada and, yes, I'll probably even get corralled into doing at least one, "next year I see myself..." but, honestly, I've no earthly clue what next year has in store for me. I have some ideas, some directions I think I might like to go but I've learned there are many twists and turns down this journey and, at this point anyway, I accept the path. It's my unique journey and I would not have it any other way.

I do hope 2018 finds you in good spirits, good health, and in a good photographic place. I hope you enjoy your own personal journey as much as I try to enjoy mine. I do expect to continue with my usual series here, including my popular Opportunity Weekend as well as any Notes from the Road should I happen to travel (well, you know I do happen to travel.)

Until next time...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - December 16th, 2017

Are the holidays driving you crazy? Here are some opportunities for you to focus on in-between holiday shopping and eating too much:
These are a bunch to get you started and hopefully spreading some holiday cheer in the form of your artwork. Good luck!

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Notes From the Road - Night Shoot around Guilin and Kevin the Expert

Kevin, a guide from Guilin's tea fields shows us how to pick tea by hand
Today, we went to an abandoned recreation area near town that had an old pagoda, an old red drum, and more. Lots of abandoned and decay type shots, you know how I love those so. It was great fun, as I had a local guide who was very interested in photography and so I had a "partner in crime" of sorts. Lots of fun shooting with somebody and playing around in the decaying architecture. Then we went to the river to see the twin pagodas at night. It was a lovely night and I got to do some night photography out by the river, which I love to do. I'm always a creature of the night, as I love to sneak in a little bit of night photography where ever I go.

Today (Wednesday) we ate at a vegetarian Buddhist cafe. It was wonderful. I love vegetarian food and the food here was quite good. They had like a big buffet and so you could just eat and eat and eat, which I did. Got to try lots of yummy things, such a treat. First we hiked downtown and went to a temple built into a hillside and a market. I will try to go back there at some point. Great shooting opportunities, as I have come to call this the "hidden" area of Guilin. It's more off the beaten (tourist/well worn) path but oh so great for photographing and, frankly, just visiting. I have an extra day here so I will walk there probably on Thursday before I go back home. Great little spot, I could shoot there all day.

In more mundane news, I got on the VPN today and am charging Fitbit so I can keep track of my steps. Walking a lot on this trip, it feels good, although I also do get sore. Much better to walk a lot and eat healthy though. I wish I could do this every day instead of sitting at a desk but that's life sometimes. We have to take the fun stuff when we can get it, right?

Went to tea tasting today. It was wonderful. Our guide, Kevin (pictured here,) was fantastic. I said I was from Austin and he said, "Oh, the state capital!"

Somebody else replied, "No, that's Houston, isn't it?" Kevin was correct, of course, as Austin is the state capital for Texas.

Then, somebody else said they were from Philly and Kevin said, "Oh, that used to be the capital of the US. That's the first capital of the US!"

Somebody else said, "No, that's Washington DC," but, once again, Kevin was right. If you recall your history, Philly was in fact the first capital of the US, it was later moved to DC. Morale of this story is, if you want to know anything about US history, why, I'd ask Kevin, our Chinese tour guide from the tea place. He seems quite up on it and, sadly, we're not so much. I also learned a lot of tea facts from Kevin which I can share with you now. They knead tea almost like pizza dough. It grows on bushes (in case you did not know that, the shrubbery behind Kevin in the picture above is actually a tea bush) with little white and yellow flowers inside the bush. You actually have to move the leaves of the bush aside to see the flowers. At the place we visited, which is a state run facility, they have over 250 tea bush varieties and this can make over 1000's of teas.

The shoots of the bushes are white. If you make tea from the shoots only this becomes white tea or silver leaf tea. It is very expensive or the best type of tea really you can buy. If you make a shoot and one leaf into tea, it's green tea because the leaf will turn the tea green. If you make two leaves or more, it becomes black tea. Basically, the more leaves you add, the darker the tea gets. The shoot is the most pure part of the plant so it's why the white tea is the most sought after of the tea varieties. Oolong tea is semi-fermented. All black tea is fermented for a longer time. Oolong tea is fermented for a shorter time so this is why they call it semi-fermented.

I got to pick a tea leaf! Kevin gave us a hat and five minutes to pick a bush and find one stem and one leaf, basically to pick the makings of some green tea. I did it! Of course, it took me so long, when I presented my findings to Kevin, he said, "You have good quality but not quantity!" It takes about 96,000 leaves to make tea so I have only 95,999 more to go, right? Euf. On the plus side, I wore a hat and had my photo taken with it on so that may surface someday soon. It was an iPhone photo, how did we ever live without those cameras, I'll never know. The tea exploration was quite fun, I really enjoyed it. I would love to go back and just spend some time in that field as well as the gift shop which was fantastic as well. I bought some tea back for the office and for myself as I am such a tea drinker at home. I love the stuff.

Another note about the tea place is that it's all organic. They put up yellow paper, almost like fly paper, to catch bugs. Old leaves they let drop to become fertilizer. They use lights at night to attract bugs also. They smoke (fire) the weeds away. It's all very old school and also organic and healthy at the same time. No pesky chemicals and some really great tea to enjoy. We also went to a tasting ceremony which I'll talk about in a later post. More on this later but, for now, enjoy Kevin, my new friend and expert on both US capitals and, well, all things tea related. Hi there, Kevin! (*Waves*)

Until next time...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Notes From the Road - China Trip Continued - The Wishing Tree

Wishes written down on leafs blowing in the breeze on a wishing tree, outside Buddhist templte in Seven Star Park, Guilin, China.
More notes from the road tonight...

Tomorrow we go to the big park near the hotel, but first we have Chinese lessons in the morning at the school then we meet our pengyou ("friend" or local guide) and off to explore the park in the afternoon. Tonight, we had a welcome dinner at a place called McFound. We had great eggplant, rice, potatoes, veggies, and the like. The food is really quite good and I found it to be both very healthy (energizing) and quite tasty. All of the places we wound up eating on the trip offered us very good food. At McFound, we also had smoked barley tea which had a slight coffee-like flavor or so we were told. I'm not sure about the coffee taste but I did quite like the tea. The food really was excellent. They served us here, like most of the meals, on a big lazy Susan type of setup and we all eat family style. I managed the chopsticks quite well even eating something the locals dubbed a "Chinese burrito" with them. I'm not the best at chopsticks but getting better each time I use them. I love the fact that I can learn how to do this at my ripe old age. It's evidence that you're never too old to learn new tricks. Over the course of the trip I did not really miss a knife and fork all that much, rather I found the chopsticks to be a nice way of eating. I may invest in a pair for my house now that I have returned home as I actually liked eating with them and they really are not that difficult to use.

I had forgot to post last time about the movie on the plane. The movie was an interesting movie called "The Purpose of Dog." It was a pretty good movie but it made me think about Chase and dogs in general. Sad! I wanted to cry. I would watch the movie again but I have found that when traveling I really do wind up missing my dog the most. Poor little Chase. I know he's ok with my family but he also misses me when I am away.

On October 23rd, Monday of my journey, we went for the Mandarin lessons at the school, CLI. The teacher we had was really very good. I got the impression that you could really learn to speak Mandarin with some time, practice, and patience. I never thought of myself as being very good with languages but I did manage to pick up a couple of words over the course of our studies. Mandarin had four tones to the vowels and there is something called Pinyin which is a way of writing Chinese in what basically amounts to Latin style (English really) characters. Pinyin relies upon the accents but it is something westerners can sort of read so it helps when learning Mandarin. I got the impression that I might be able to learn some Mandarin with the help of the Pinyin but I would face a most difficult time trying to master the characters that make up the Mandarin alphabet. Learning that I reckon would take some time and might just prove impossible for somebody like me, so the Pinyin is very handy.

A couple of things we learned to say, or tried to say: chi fan means to have a meal. Ba ba means father, ma ma means mother. Hen hao means very good. Shi (pronounced like "sha") means yes or it can double as the very to be. Bu shi (pronounced like "bushy") means No. Wo e le means I'm hungry. You can make something into a question by adding the word "ma" at the end. The word wo means I or me.

Enough of my poor man's Mandarin back to notes on photography. On Monday we also went to the Seven Star Park. This park reminded me a bit like Austin's own Zilker Park only perhaps a bit bigger. Inside the park, there is a zoo, a big lake where President Clinton once gave a talk on the environment, and an amusement park of sorts. There is also a Buddhist temple which was an event unto itself and worthy of quite an extended visit. The temple had golden Buddhas and the building itself was sort of built against the mountain. It was really very beautiful. It was actually a series of buildings with one building housing colored (hand painted) giant figures and the main temple had a series of giant golden men as well as a central alter with a giant gold Buddha. There was a courtyard surrounded by a series of buildings each offering some interesting shots. In the courtyard, there was a "wishing tree" where people write wishes on slips of paper made to look like leaves. It's considered a form of meditation to hear leaves rustle in the wind and these "wish" leaves fluttered in the breeze as I sat there and enjoyed the beautiful courtyard. The image above is some of the wishes blowing in the breeze from the wishing tree. It was quite a lovely sight to experience. The entire temple area was quite beautiful and I wound up making a video so I could try to capture it better. At some point, I will try to post to my YouTube channel to share the video so you can see it too.

In more mundane news, I switched hotel rooms, so I am no longer on the fifth floor but now in room 205. It's smaller but less steps, near the bottom. At dinner time, we had something called "squirrel fish" which was not actually squirrel but called that on account of the way the tail of the fish sort of flops over as they cook and prepare it. It was very sweet tasting and I really liked it. Also, we had potato, cabbage, plus some tofu and rice. We had something called corn juice which was served warm and it's sweet, almost like a smoothie of sorts. It was tasty.

Seven Star Park also had Minions and several Disney like statues. There is a practice in China of painting artwork on trees. I found it quite interesting and took some shots of tree art, which I might share later on.

I'll leave you with more Chinese from my lesson the next morning. We learned some numbers, how to count basically, so we could shop and buy food type items as well. This was quite helpful. Then we also learned some photography type terms so we could survive. Zhao Pian means photo. Wo ke yi pai ni ma? Means May I take your picture? They warned us to be careful saying this because, in Mandarin, the very to take can also mean to hit somebody. Wo Xi Huan Pai Zhao Pian means I like to take photo. Zhao Xiang Ji is a camera. Ji is a machine. Ni Hui Shuo Ying Wen Ma? Means can you speak English? The word Cha means tea.

Next up I'll share some experiences from the tourist area, which we visited at night, as well as the Buddhist cafe where we ate lunch.

Until next time...

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - December 9th

Two shoppers browse in a Chinese apothecary market inside the hidden area of Guilin, China
More MARKET-ing opportunities for you this weekend. So sorry, I still cannot resist the puns. I don't know what these folks are buying but here are some opportunities you might be able to sink your teeth into:
 Lots of topics to explore in these calls and lots of marketing opportunities for you. Get after it, as they say. Good luck! 

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Notes From the Road - From China Continued - Shanghai Airport and Guilin Arrival

A Chinese apothecary supply store in a hidden area of Guilin, China. Unknown items for sale displayed here.
Been back a while now but thought I would continue sharing my "Notes from the Road" so here goes....Part 1 is here if you missed in, onto the next part now.

When I last shared notes from the road, I was still talking about the flight over there. On the long haul flight, I sat next to a two year old. Now, when I say that, you're probably thinking, "Oh, poor you! You lost the airline seat lottery or at least somehow deeply angered the great Gods of roaming gnomes!" But, in this case, you'd be wrong. She was quite fun to be with, this little girl was. She only cried or made a fuss one time and that was when she bumped her head (in all fairness, I would have cried too had I bumped my head.) What a charming little lady, I still can't believe it.

I had my first dumpling on the plane. They served us two meals, as they frequently do on those long haul flights. The first was some kind of fish, I think tilapia with potatoes. Nothing to write home about but not bad either. The second meal was fried rice and a chicken dumpling. Oh, now that was fabulous! Probably one of the better meals I've had on a plane in a lone time. It had fresh fruit and ginger cake. Really very good.

After the long flight it was onto Shanghai Airport. This was quite an adventure. I had to switch terminals. I had no idea Shanghai Airport is one of the larger airports in the world or some such thing. It had been described to me (by the Internets...never trust the Internets) as being "small for a city of such size." Don't believe the hype. Phew! What an airport. It's big. It's divided into two terminals: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Logically named, yes, but logic does not get you too far in terms of airport terminals these days. One terminal is reserved for mostly international flights, while the other is mostly local transport. The international airport was bustling with shops, restaurants, lots of people mulling about, and all sorts of activity. Luckily, I had six hours of layover. I had to go through customs and inspections, baggage claim, switch terminals, and meet up with my contact. Phew! I needed about two days for all of that. The customs line took about an hour. It was slow moving with a lot of pokes and prods here and there. Then, I had to do baggage claim which was fun and go off to security but first find the other terminal. Turns out they have a shuttle bus going between terminals so I had to juggle all luggage onto and off of the shuttle bus, not to mention find it first. I mentioned I had six hours, right? Yeah, there goes one right there. Eventually, I found my way to the local terminal where it was a bit strange to be the only non-Asian person for what felt like miles. Welcome to Shanghai! It's China now and I loved it. Actually, it reminded me a bit how the world is a small place. We are all interconnected people and people are people where ever you go. Bustling airports tend to resemble each other the world over but it still felt a bit like magic being lost in this new one, completely on the other side of the world.

I planted myself next to a potted plant and waited for my contact Beth to arrive. I had no idea what she looked like so I just walked up to any non-Asian female and asked, "Beth?" I stopped three people in as many hours before they announced the plane loading. I was getting a little worried when I saw a lady walk up. I shouted, "Beth?" and she replied, "Carol!" She was very happy to see me and I was super happy she had made the flight. She told me about her ordeal, of sorts. Luckily, she had met a German tour guide who helped her navigate customs and she made the flight as it was boarding. Thank goodness nobody got left behind in Shanghai and we were on our way to Guilin now.

The plane was very modern and nice, the flight short, and we touched down (hard I might add-turns out the pilots in China like harder landings than the rest of the world) in Guilin at 11:55 pm, just before midnight. We met our guide at the airport who took us to a waiting car which would transport us to the hotel. It's about an hour from the airport to hotel, really that much time between the airport and anywhere else in the city, but a little bit less at midnight without traffic so we clocked in at 1 am. The hotel is lovely, more to come on this later.

While in line in customs, I heard somebody behind me talking English. Turned out to be a couple from Toronto. She was on a cruise with about 100 more Canadians and I had somehow gotten in the middle of this group of travelers as we passed into customs, waiting in line to process. She was very rude and loud and all I could think was, "Phew! At least she's Canadian." She kept insisting the "airport people" speak English. I told her that it was China and she should learn Chinese if she wanted to converse. She kept insisting, "But it's an airport. They should all learn 50 words in English!" Yes, lady, it's an airport, but it's a Chinese airport. What do you expect? Do you even speak one word of Chinese or make an attempt? Have a phrase book? Try to learn or even slow down while you're speaking? At one point, she used the dreaded, "these people" expression. Really? "These people!" I really hate that expression and personally try to ban it while traveling. Yes, I know we're all tired, it's late, you're hungry and have been stuffed on a plane for what seems like an eternity but, come on, "these people." Don't blame the people who work in the airport. They are doing a job and trying to help you. For the most part, the world over, I have found that people who work in airports are trying to help. "These people" are just like you, lady. Enough on my soapbox, let's just say I'm glad that I did not get strip searched because I was standing next to her as I passed through customs.

While in line in customs, I also heard a familiar language. Sounded a bit like Spanish but not quite so I asked, "Italiano?" The man, just having heard my accent and recognizing it, he responded, "No, we speak Portuguese." He was very nice and went on to tell me they were visiting from Brazil and that Portuguese is a beautiful language. A nice "ambassador" for Brazil right there. It amazes me how some can be so pleasant and some so harsh although this is a first for me. Nasty Canadians? I've not heard that before but there you have it.

The hotel is on a side street which is nice, kind of off the beaten path. It's more quiet although I should point out they like to light off firecrackers at all hours of the day and night. It's loud but part of the story. While I could have done without the firecrackers at 3am I can't claim to want to banish them completely either. VPN access is spotty and I wind up spending most of my time away from the computer so no worries there. I have to, at some point, upload some pictures, right?

These are my notes from my arrival and landing in Shanghai and my very first night in Guilin. I'll continue with my notes from the road, Guilin version at some point in the near future.

Until next time...

PS This image taken in the apothecary aka "medicine market" in a quiet little hidden area of Guilin. It was most charming down this way and I really enjoyed strolling through this part of the city.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - December 2nd

Time for some MARKET-ing. Sorry, I could not resist the bad visual pun there. Puns aside, it's time for some opportunities for you.
 That's a lot to fit into one shopping bag. Good luck!

Until next time...